The Turkish government sent a second energy exploration vessel to contested waters off Cyprus, defying European Union threats of retaliation.
The 230-meter (755-foot) long Yavuz, which is able to drill 12,200 meters deep, will begin operations in early July, Melih Han Bilgin, the chief executive of state-run oil and gas producer, Turkiye Petrolleri AO, said at a ceremony in western Turkey on Thursday. Together with the Fatih, dispatched in October, it will operate off Cyprus’s west and east coasts, Bilgin said.
“Our purpose is to search for oil and gas,” he said. “We are conducting this search in areas licensed by the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots..”
EU member Cyprus says the exploration is taking place in waters where it has exclusive economic rights and violates its sovereignty, and it has threatened to arrest Fatih crew if drilling operations continue.
On Tuesday, the EU said it will examine reprisals against Turkey, which seized northern Cyprus in 1974 after a failed attempt to unite the island with Greece, in a move that isn’t internationally recognized.
The EU move could pave the way for targeted sanctions against companies and individuals involved in the drilling activities, and push relations between Ankara and Brussels to a new low. “Turkey continues to move further away from the European Union,” bloc members said in a communique.
The dispute adds to a series of disagreements between Western governments and Turkey over democratic standards and Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian missile-defense system that NATO says could compromise its systems.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed late Tuesday that “no one can prevent us from protecting rights of Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean.”